About Jim Bamboulis
Jim Bamboulis has held several posts over the past 12 years, including National Sportscaster, Food Host and Writer, Talk Show Host, Olympic Researcher and Travel Film-maker.
Born and raised in Toronto, Jim learned early on that the combination of travel and food meant ultimate living. Combining his insatiable creative spirit and desire to document his travels, Jim took his unshakable travel bug and set off to explore. Add the fact that Jim also grew up in a Greek household and he learned that not only does Mom always make the best meals, but as importantly learned the importance of understanding and appreciating the countless beautiful cultures and the integral role food plays in every corner of the World.
In August 2009, Jim founded Travel Mammal, a site that brings together his travels and experiences (both good and terrifying) with the hope that others are inspired to share their own. We are all storytellers, especially when it comes to travel and food. He urges everyone to be inspired, explore and love the world and the people that share it with us. Or in other words, Live to Travel and travel to live!
Latest Posts by Jim Bamboulis
The Canadian National Exhibition marks the unofficial end of summer in Toronto. For the past 138 years, millions have flocked to what is Canada’s largest fair. In fact, this year up to 1.6 million people are expected to enjoy everything the fair has to offer. And that includes the food of course.
Let’s face it. You don’t go to the CNE to eat salads. You go for the rides and to eat food you normally wouldn’t eat (or would you?). And every year, the good people who feed you at Toronto’s annual exhibition come up with ideas to create dishes that are more outrageous than the year before.
This year is no exception. The 2016 edition of the CNE is is loaded with dishes that you can’t believe exist, much less understand how they were in even conceived. Here are my five must-eats at this years CNE. Get your Instagram’s ready and forget the diet.
Bug Dog @ The Bug Bistro
These guys have a “bug-worthy” menu. Their main attraction is the Bug Dog, a hormone-free beef frank seasoned with crispy mustard crickets.
Spam Double Down @ Miami Press
For those who remember what spam was before email, this will be all too familiar for you. This is a nostalgic dish that features two thick cut pieces of Spam – they serve as the buns – and in between you’ve got bacon, tomato, cheese and chipotle among other juicy goodies.
Philly Steaklair @ Philthy Philly’s
Sweet and savoury, this guy is a cross between a traditional Philly cheesesteak and an eclair. Topped with bacon meats, whipped cream and chocolate icing, it’ll probably make you sit down a few minutes to digest it.
The Churro Cheeseburger @ Epic Burgers + Waffles
What happens when you take the flavours of a traditional burger and combine it with sweet cinnamon fried-dough pastry as buns. You get magic, or something along those lines.
Sushi Burritos @ So&Bu
This is where Tokyo meets Tijuana. Su&Bu offers sushi burritos and poke bowls. And you’ve got your pick of tuna, salmon and shrimp. Small or big portions, this is a great concept and one that will make people line up for more.
All of these dishes and many more are located in the Food Building at the CNE. For more information, please check out the CNE website.
Got a favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.
Frankly, if you love outdoor markets where you can pick up fresh, delicious food then #UnionSummer should be one of your top Toronto destinations this summer.
Located at the foot of the city in front of Union Station, #UnionSummer features 20 food vendors that give both locals and visitors an amazing variety of food to choose from; food that’s reflective of the different neighbourhoods, cultures and ethnicities of the city. It’s a true melting pot of people and food and a clear representation of not only what Toronto is all about but what makes the city truly unique.
Only in its second year, it runs from June 27 until Sept. 5 making it the longest running outdoor market in the country.
The idea behind it was to give the roughly 250,000 people who pass through Union Station every day a reason to stay. Since construction began in 2009, people have been put off sticking around the old hub. There was very little about it that made people want to stay in the area and experience it. This market has transformed that perception. In a word, it has created a sense of community in middle of the one of the busiest areas of the city. It has given everyone who interacts with it a place to eat, laugh, meet and experience together.
When construction is completed, Union will be restored to its classically beautiful self but with so much more on the inside. Similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, you can expect to see a whole level of pedestrian retail with plenty of shops and services, including a fresh food marketplace, butchers, florists and bakeries.
As for the Great Hall, there will be a two-storey signature restaurant complete with a performance venue. That way, it will be easier for you to either be late for your train or miss it altogether.
Happy travel and happy eats y’all.
Some of us feel a connection to a place. Many can’t understand why and many others don’t know what to make of that feeling that they get when they arrive and the uncomfortable discomforting pain they feel when they leave. I recently met a woman who’s been to India over a dozen times in two years. I asked her why she keeps going back and her only response was, “I feel that I belong there; my soul belongs here”.
Her answer hit me hard, eureka hard. Got me thinking. Is that why I kiss the tarmac every time I land there? Okay, so, that’s really random, I know. But, here’s the story.
Every time I land at this one location, I have this desire to kiss the tarmac. I do it every time. I don’t know when it all started and I don’t know why it has become common practice for me but it has turned into a weird ritual. Well weird to you probably. For me, it’s feels natural. I don’t do it at any other location, except and only here: in Rhodes, Greece. And over the years, I’m now finally starting to understand why.
I don’t travel to Rhodes often. In fact, it’s been many years since I’ve been. But every time the weather starts getting cold in Toronto and every summer, it pops back to mind. I think the biggest reason why is because my Mom is from this magical Greek Island in the southeastern Mediterranean. And although I was born and raised as a proud Canadian, I have a very strong bond with my Mom and perhaps that’s the reason why I feel that a big part of me is also from this place. I don’t feel like a traveler or tourist here. I feel as if I’ve arrived home.
As a child, money was tight but we managed to go every few years to visit and spend time with my Grandmother in the village. I shake my head and smile as I remember those childhood visits. I’d always cry on the first night. Probably because I miss playing with my Atari. But after that, it was pretty smooth sailing. I’d make summer friends and pretend to be good at soccer and basketball.
I remember breakfasts, I’d eat oranges and figs fresh off the trees from my Grandma’s garden. Later, Mom and I would ride the bus into town, walk around the castle and visit the sites, pick up delicious sugar donuts from street vendors and, if my Mom still had patience for my sometimes unpredictable childhood antics, she’d let me take a dip in the sea.
I remember the evenings and nights. Those were the most special and in my opinion, quintessentially Greek. Mom and Grandma would cook a small meal. We’d eat it on the front porch as we exchanged evening greetings with passer-by’s. Sometimes even inviting them in to drink, eat, share some laughs and memories with us. Those conversations would often go well into the night. Even at a young age, I can remember sitting back and watching the dynamics of the conversation between neighbours. The memories they had of the years that flew by way too fast.
Many Greek Islanders have a story to tell. Rhodians in particular have incredible ones. Sure, the island was home to one of the 7 ancient Wonders of the World and although you probably won’t find anyone that can speak of their personal experiences with that, you will find many who can remember big recent events and turning points. Because of its geographic location, Rhodes has always been in the crossroads of history. From Biblical times to Ottomans to Nazis, its shores have experienced many things over the span of three-thousand years or so. Stories are handed down and recited almost at will.
I think this is the reason why I always tell friends who want to visit Greece that it’s not just about seeing the sites and posting photos. It’s about the little experiences in Greece that make your visit that much more special. Visit a village, have a coffee, listen to an older person as they spontaneously start telling you war stories and probably some personal family conflict you didn’t want to know about. Don’t worry about time or the language barrier. With their broken English and passing translators, you’ll understand enough. And believe me, it would be one of those unique and memorable experiences that will put a smile on your face. And it’s not something you can capture with a photo. It stays with you, inside of you.
The last time I visited Rhodes was when I was in my early 30s. I looked up at the clear, blue, eternal sky as it joined hands with two endless, royal blue Seas. I closed my eyes and felt a surreal warmth come over me.
I inhaled intoxicating scents of chamomile, mint, honey. Coming from the mountains, from the sky. Subtle waves crashing, feeding the land with history, passion and millions of tales. In awe. Speechless, swept up, emotional.
And then it dawned on me. A thought sprinted to mind as I finally realized what I couldn’t quite place at any other time I visited.
I felt right, comfortable, like I fit in nicely here. I thought and felt that this goes beyond the physical sense. It runs deeper. Perhaps soul-level-deep.
Born, raised and educated in Toronto, I love my hometown and I love Canada. I get excited every time I explore it and experience its gorgeous and often breathtaking scenery. I’m proud to be Canadian, to flash my passport abroad knowing that I come from a country that gave me and millions of others loads of opportunities that people from around the world clamour to get. And I’m always sharing uniquely Canadian experiences to visitors who want to explore the country for themselves. I don’t take any of it for granted.
But, there’s a particular, intangible feeling that I get on Rhodes that I’ve never quite gotten in Canada or anywhere else I have visited. Maybe there’s a connection to the land, the history, the water, the honey scented air, the spirit of the people. I don’t know. I haven’t been able to pinpoint it. But the thoughts and feelings I get every time I get there are a special kind of euphoric.
I believe that we all have that one place that completely mystifies us with the power it holds over us. Many are lucky enough to discover it. I don’t know the how’s or why’s but I do know that once known, it will keep luring you back emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
What do you guys think? Am I off or am I on to something here? I would love to hear your thoughts about this y’all. Please leave your messages below!
Are you hungry for a NEW weekend getaway from Toronto this summer? Here are 5 more road trip experiences around Southern Ontario that you should take while the weather is hot!
There’s no doubt about it, having a travel companion has many benefits. But, have you ever been on a trip with someone and wished that you traveled alone instead? It’s common. That’s why there’s travel compatibility tests. Before you take that trip together, you can test whether you’ll gel together. Might save you some agony. Personalities and travel styles clash all the time leading to big time fights and even broken friendships.
And then there’s couples’ travel. Traveling can strengthen long-term relationships or break them up. Take the Amazing Race for example. Someone decided that a fan page dedicated to listing the breakups associated with the show was worth creating.
Enter Bill Murray.
Remember this from a couple of years ago? Bill crashed a bachelor party and gave the groom-to-be a piece of advice that is bang on truth. The beauty is that it applies to everyone who plans on being together. This is both marriage and travel advice.
So what about solo travel? Sure, it’s not for everyone and for many it’s not easy. Fear is a huge factor and cripples a lot of people from going it alone. But, the fact is, no matter who you are and where you’re from, there’s a case to be made about its benefits.
It’s not as scary as you might think. Of course, where you choose to go is your business but some organizations have even come up with a list of countries where solo travellers are expected to have a better overall experience. Regardless of where you decide to go, here are my five reasons why I love to travel solo. Hopefully, these motivate you to take that long-awaited trip and do it your way.
That’s a hard concept for many to understand much less execute. It’s not easy letting go and most of us can’t get our heads around doing things only for ourselves, by ourselves. Solo travel allows me to do whatever I want, as often as I want and for as long as I want to do it. The only person that you have to answer to is yourself. It’s a very liberating feeling without the need to compromise. Your trip, your time, your adventure!
And because it’s your adventure, you don’t have to deal with anyone trying to interfere with or even sabotage your plans (or non-plans). I’ve seen it over and over again. Something so insignificant happens and an argument breaks out. Feelings are hurt and you waste valuable time trying to fix a fight than enjoy your trip.
The above shot was taken at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and I stayed here for 6 hours. Just because. By traveling alone, I avoid all of that drama/vacation kill. I’m enjoying my experiences, seeing what I want and having the chance to meet new people. And, you will definitely meet new and exciting people.
Meet New People
I know, it’s not easy being social, especially in a foreign country. But you’d be surprised how many amazing people are out there just open and willing to share a drink, a conversation and especially a travel story with you.
Think about it. Everyday, people around the world wake up, commute to a job they probably hate, deal with people they probably hate more, go to meetings they despise and then commute back home. That’s life. There’s little time to go out, much less have a spontaneous and exciting conversation with someone new.
It’s not about hooking up guys, it’s about human connection. It’s amazing what happens when you let go and allow yourself to have a good time with total strangers.
Time is Tickin’
The one thing that gets me eager to book a trip is watching old music videos. I’ll watch a Duran Duran video and think how young I was when it came out and yet it feels like yesterday. Is time really going that fast?
The answer is yes.
It’s understandable if you’ve got a deal ironed out with your partner that you only travel together no matter what. Or you’ve got major family responsibilities, an elderly parent you’re taking care of or kids of course.
But If you’re always trying to coordinate schedules and feel that you’ve waited long enough, then maybe it’s time for you to go it alone. If you have the time and a bit of cash, then seize the day. Book the flight, get on the train, rent that car, it doesn’t matter. Take advantage and take that long-awaited trip you’ve always wanted to take. You won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll thank yourself for making the most of your time.
Learn More About YOU!
To me, it’s all about perspective. You can look at solo travel as lonely or you can see it as a chance to find out who you are, who you’ve become and what you’re capable of.
This is the opportunity to take the time and really delve deep inside and give yourself a chance to learn more about you.
Scary? Hell ya. And it’s definitely a process. But here’s the thing. Investing in yourself, learning more about you, is the biggest challenge and most rewarding experience you will have. And believe me, if you’re like me, you’ll really surprise yourself to learn that you’re more than just a person who needs that ticket for the morning commute to work.
Everyone is at risk of running into trouble abroad. Based on conversations that I’ve had with female friends of mine, women may have many more hesitations about traveling alone for many reasons, including and especially safety, a legitimate concern. But as you know, there are many resources and helpful tips that will put your mind at ease.
If you’re almost at that tipping point and have decided that it’s time to finally take that trip, take inspiration from other women that have been there, done that and have used their experiences to inspire others that it not only is possible but it will profoundly change you, hopefully for the better. What are you waiting for?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain.
When I walk by an ethnic restaurant, I don’t look so much at the food by the window. Instead, I look more at who’s eating it. If I’m in the mood for Chinese food, I want to see Chinese people eating at the Chinese restaurant. If it’s Italian, I want to see Italians. My theory is, if I see locals loving the food, I’ll love the food. That’s when I walk into the restaurant. Otherwise, I skip it.
Same goes with Greek. People ask me all the time where I go for Greek food. And when I tell them, I get this weird, confused look. And I know why.
I don’t frequent the usuals, the ones people seem to go to all the time and I don’t eat at restaurants to be seen. Odds are, I go the ones you’ve probably walked past without a second thought. When I want great Greek food, I go to restaurants where the Chefs understand what makes an exceptional meal, a memorable experience. Restaurants that don’t take any shortcuts and don’t try to sell you something sub par at an inflated price. I hit the good ones and I believe that you should too.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reputable Greek restaurants in Toronto that fill the void, hit the spot. But I give you the five Greek restaurants that I recommend most every time. Walk by, look at the people eating inside, walk in, get a table. Because these five are consistently filled with Greeks eating delicious Greek food. Let’s go!
The Greek Grill
These guys are 2km north of the main Greek town strip. There’s parking in front but it’s still tough to snag a spot. The Greek Grill is always full and always smoking. Pork, chicken or lamb, prepared all day. Large chunks of meat, marinated and placed on a spit, slow roasted over a charcoal pit. That pit gets turned on just in time for the morning joggers to inhale the meat being smoked. And that includes me.
I run by this place during my morning run. And let me tell you, as a jogger and meat lover, inhaling the seasoned meat during a run not only makes me want to stop and grab a bite but the aroma truly makes me feel nostalgic; like I’m in the heart of a Greek village in mid-summer. And that says it all.
Of course, the menu is not just about pork, chicken and lamb. If you love seafood, the grilled calamari is a must. It’s phenomenal. Seasoned and grilled to perfection, just squeeze some lemon on top and you’re good to go.
Located just off the main Greek town strip, the Florida is my kind of place. Family run, traditional, old world style. Eating here feels homely. Everyone here tries to build a personal relationship with you. This isn’t the type of restaurant where you’re treated like a number or just another casual passerby diner.
You don’t eat meat? Ok, try the lamb. The Florida has by far some of the best fresh, traditionally seasoned rotisserie lamb in Toronto. In fact, it’s the specialty here.
This place is right smack in the middle of Greek town and yet many often walk right past it without realizing that they just walked by one of the best. But if you know about it, it’s a go-to spot time and again.
The Owner, Lambro, is a mild-mannered gentleman who’s quick to offer his suggestions and cater to your hungry needs. Avli Restaurant is known for many things including the lamb shank, which is arguably one of the most popular items.
If you prefer seafood, get the octopus. In fact, Lambro will make it very clear the precision it takes to select the best quality octopus and how his separates him from all the rest. He’s not kidding, the octopus here is ridiculous. Marinated and grilled to perfection.
Call ahead, get a table on the weekend and listen to live bouzouki music. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting up and dancing with a room full of strangers by the time you finish your ouzo.
There was a time when the downtown Toronto Greek restaurant scene served up your typical, expected Canadianized Greek grub where chicken skewers and lemon potatoes filled lunchtime hunger voids.
Scallops – Photo courtesy – Estiatorio Volos
Then Volos opened and it not only changed the game but it gave people in the core a better idea of what modern Greek food looks and tastes like. Volos offers a more refined dining experience where the decor is striking and the food is spectacular. Of course, you pay a bit more for the quality but in my opinion, it’s worth the extra few bucks.
Volos Spetzofai – Photo courtesy – Estiatorio Volos
From seared halibut and scallops to grilled mediterranean sea bass and red snapper, these guys do seafood really well. My consistent go-to’s include the Volos Spetzofai (spicy lamb sausage, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, mint) and the Stuffed Cornish Hen with figs, pecans, and whipped feta potato. Top it off with the Ouzo Chocolate Mousse and you might actually want fight the traffic and look for a parking spot only to have the chance to keep eating here.
Transport yourself to Greece for an hour. Chat with the Chef in his kitchen and pick your meal. Sit down and enjoy the experience of eating in a truly relaxed Greek environment, surrounded by animated conversation in a family taverna atmosphere.
That’s Athens Restaurant.
This small family run spot has been rated tops by Greeks for years. But the reason why so many don’t know about it, is because it’s east of Pape Avenue. It turns out that yes, there IS life east of Pape.
No menus. That’s right, no menus. So how do you know what to eat? How do you know what you’re paying? Both valid questions. Here’s how it works. Greeted and seated, you’re invited into the kitchen to meet and speak with the Chefs. Conversation is instantly sparked and you meet the good people who’ve cooked your meal. Then you hand-pick exactly what you want to eat and how much. 10 minutes later, you’re served.
Now that’s as traditional Greek as it gets. I don’t know of any other restaurant in Toronto so transparent as to let customers into the kitchen, meet and greet the Staff and pick their plates.
I always start with a Greek Village Salad and go from there. It’s hard for me to tell you what else to get because the selection changes daily. Along with veggie options, there almost always seems to be a fairly wide selection of seafood, chicken, beef, lamb dishes as well as stuffed peppers and tomatoes ready to go.
Come to Athens and experience what it’s like to sit at a table, break bread and eat as if you were back in the old country. It’s an experience you’ll want to keep coming back to. And don’t worry, the bill won’t be as hefty as you think. In fact, it will make you smile. Quality dishes, incredible value!
Did I miss one? Did I miss two? Do you have a favourite that’s not on this list? Let us know.
I wanted to drive north. I wanted to go to a place I had never been to before. I looked at a map and saw Lagoon City. A coastal town with winding canals? What am I looking at here, Venice? Could this be The Venice of Ontario? Only 1 1/2 hours from Toronto?
I started driving. When I arrived, I was amazed. Lagoon City is one of many towns that make up the township of Ramara. An official Canadian Resort village, it has a small town feel, mixed with a bit of Floridian vibe. Friendly people, beautiful homes and surrounded by water and boats.
Homes here are connected to 10 miles of lagoons which are in turn connected to Lake Simcoe and the Trent River waterway. It makes for an incredible sight and worthy of a walk around the town.
Don’t know anyone living in those homes…but still want to enjoy the water? You’re good, Lagoon City has you covered. There’s a great beach and even a hotel right along the water so you can stay, eat, play and swim all you like.
Of course, there are plenty of spots along all sides of Lake Simcoe to enjoy the outdoors. The water is exceptional in many spots and often very shallow. Lagoon City is one of those places that centres around those who boat and enjoy the ‘dockominium’ type of lifestyle.
For visitors, it’s an amazing side trip, a chance to see a place in Ontario that you may not have experienced before. It’s really very picturesque and worth the trip. This part of Ontario is truly a wonderland when it comes to things to see and do. There are several golf courses, Provincial Parks such as Sibbald Point and Mara, Casino Rama is in the areaand if you love ice cream, you can’t beat Kawartha Dairy, home to some of the best ice cream in Canada.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that there was a National park so close to Toronto. Provincial parks, yes. Several. So when I looked at a map and noticed Georgian Bay Islands, I jumped on the opportunity to experience it myself. In this article, I’ll give you 5 solid reasons why you should experience it for yourselves. Here we go.
Close to Toronto
Yes, I know. Proximity matters. I understand that there’s only so much time in the day and the week. You don’t want to spend that much time in the car, trying to get to where you need to get. Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto. That may still seem far but when you think about the fact that you’re going to a National park, it should (hopefully) get you excited.
For me, the drive up and what’s around also plays a part. Highway 400 is a bit of a boring highway, I know. But once you get north of Barrie, the scenic drive element of the road trip itself makes it all worthwhile. The landscape becomes that much more rugged, the air that much cleaner.
It’s a National Park
The fact that there’s such a park so close to the big city is truly special. When I think about these types of outdoor gems, my mind usually goes to Jasper, Banff and even Gros Morne. These are some of the more majestic parks Canada has to offer. And although beautiful and definitely worth experiencing, don’t discount the beauty in Toronto’s backyard. You won’t see peaks, glaciers and ocean, but you will see a part of Canada and Canadian Shield that many of us take for granted.
After all, GBINP is right in the middle of the 30,000 island country. It’s home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. A small boat takes you either to the north end or south end of Beausoleil Island where you can then take your pick as to what you want to do. Cycle, hike, camp, swim and/or just enjoy the many vistas available. The Group of Seven saw plenty of beauty here and I guarantee that you will too.
Incredible hiking and cycling trails
There are around a dozen trails to explore on both the north and south side of the Beausoleil. I stuck to the northern end and managed to squeeze in 2 trails. Cambrian is a 2km trek that takes you along Little Dog Channel and through deep forest.
The other one was Fairy, a 2.5km loop trail that takes you to Honeymoon Bay and along Fairy Lake. Longer, more challenging hiking and cycling trails are located on the south end. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one at the Cedar Spring Visitor Centre on the Island.
Affordable cabin life
GBINP is one of those places that comes equipped with fully functioning, all-the-comforts-of-home waterfront cabins. You can rent a cabin at either Cedar Springs orChristian Beach. At Cedar Springs, accommodations for up to 5 people is available. Cabins come with a queen sized bed and a bunk bed. You get washrooms, showers, dining table, sofa, coffee table, a fridge and yes electricity.
Photo courtesy: Parks Canada
Meanwhile the cabins at Christian Beach are a bit more remote, smaller too. They are more for the couple who wants some privacy and distance from everyone and everything. Here, you get a queen size bed, composting toilets close by, limited solar-powered electricity and a dining table with chairs. There’s no running water in the cabins but you get a shared fire pit, a beautiful pebble beach, views of Georgian Bay and you get to experience epic sunsets. Similar to Cedar Springs, pets aren’t allowed.
Photo courtesy: Parks Canada
Chance to see wildlife
If you’re a true lover of the great outdoors, then you love the chance to see some real wildlife. For lightweights like me, seeing a chipmunk is enough to get me rattled and dazzled. There are plenty at GBINP. But if you’re looking for a real up close and personal encounter with, say rattlesnakes then you’re in luck. They’re around at GBINP and from what I understand, they are a rare sight. But nonetheless, look for the sounds and respect their boundaries. Stay safe out there.
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake on Northern Beausoleil Island.
Photo courtesy: Parks Canada/ Bill Carswell, 1977
There’s also been Black bear sightings on both ends of the park. They tend to avoid humans and generally go for food lying around the picnic areas. Make sure that you store your food and cooking supplies so that you don’t risk coming into contact with these beautiful animals. Respect the park, respect the wildlife and everything should be just fine.